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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  December 23, 2012 1:00pm-1:30pm EST

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>> next come and interview recorded at university of pennsylvania, mary frances berry shysters experiences on the united states commission on civil rights, set up by president eisenhower in the 1950s senate. this is about half an hour. >> host: on your screen now as a well-known face for c-span viewers. that is mary frances berry, professor university of pennsylvania and also the author of several books, where the university of pennsylvania to talk to her about this book, justice for all. united states commission on civil rights and continuing struggle for freedom in america. mary frances berry, when did the u.s. civil rights commission began and why?
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>> guest: well, the civil rights commission started in 1957. president eisenhower had a lot of discussions with john foster dulles, secretary of state about the way the united states is seen around the world because of the racism going on, that people would hear about and read about and the fact that there seemed to be a lot of episodes that kept happening, whether as lynching or some discrimination taking place in the country. so the idea was eisenhower said he was going to ask congress to set up a civil rights commission, which would put the facts on top of the table. i'm told by one of the people who was at the meeting that he slammed the table and said there are the facts on top of the table. and commission says we know who do policy sometimes set up because there's a tough problem and people don't want to do anything about it. they get a report on it goes
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away. this commission was supposed to put the facts on top of the table and then its future would depend on what i found out, how aggressive it was some of the public thought about what they were doing. >> host: this is initially set up as a temporary commission. >> guest: yes, it was temporary and was filled with waste and came the ford the crisis. the ferment going on in the country, eisenhower was to diffuse part of the crisis and present a better image of the country, to the world and if on the way they could recommend solutions, that would be great. >> host: who made it the first commission? >> guest: the first commission idea was to put people on there who would be respected, they put the chairman who is the president to michigan state university in east lansing. he was made the president of it.
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that one black member, a guy named wilkins who was assistant secretary of labor than they thought he was a sort of moderate person. i read all the white house files by the way. i didn't serve on the commission, but since i'm an historian i got all the files from other presidents, all the white houses and that all that stuff so i could see what they were saying inside about what they were doing. so the 11 black guy who was an adviser in the eisenhower white house, who is mostly there to tell names of people they could appoint something that would give them the trouble with their job. name him to it. but the rest of the folks on their named father ted hasbrouck from notre dame and important figures so it had important people on it. >> host: mary frances berry, when did she serve as chair of the civil rights commission? >> guest: i came in 1980 after
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having served in the carter administration and after then chancellor university of colorado boulder, where people say it was the first woman to be head of research university. but in any case, i had excites with ronald reagan because i was just a commissioner. i along with one of my latina woman, who was the only other minority on the commission would descend whenever the commission tried to do something that was terrible. reagan appointed some people, so we had problems than they had a big fight with him. but i was on their commitment to other sites. finally it was contained and made me chaired the commission. >> host: president carter point you? >> guest: carter appointed me. i went back to teaching and he pointed me to the commission.
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>> host: at what point did it become clear the u.s. reservation become a permanent agency in a sense? >> guest: after the first year when the report stated. instead of sitting down and saying okay, we are here as a safety valve. they did some hearings that the major power the commission house and i point this out in the book into his most important thing about the commission. what it says is supposed to do is simple: listen to people now and also listen to. the civil rights problems people have that they could not get anyone to pay attention. not just local people, but the federal government. they would write letters and nobody would pay any attention. the civil rights commission decided they would see what they had to say and they have the power to subpoena anyone. eisenhower said the reason why you want to get it passed by
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congress and said it issuing executive orders is because my attorney general tells me that's the only way they can subpoena anybody. given what the problems are cumbersome people may not want to come to testify. so the commission's most important power was subpoena and they went in the south of october with a place to see what the problems were and they made recommendations that are controversial, they seem to make sense. so after the then there for a while, it was clear they needed to be reauthorized and continue to work on these issues. the whole civil rights movement started to heat up. it was clear there was a need. then the commission spent the next few years figuring out what to recommend to the government to bring to fruition what these people are protesting about in the streets. another is, people were protesting and going to jail and so on. what they did was make recommendations about the
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legislation would look like that might be something to help alleviate some of these problems. >> professor barry, while the numbers originally appointed by president eisenhower? >> guest: they were appointed by him and confirmed by the senate. >> host: and -- >> guest: bipartisan. some are democrats and some republicans. >> host: going back to mr. wilkins, any relation to academic roger wilkins said today? >> guest: no, it's another whole family and my dear friend roger is not related to that family. that family is related to a professor at harvard whose name is also wilkins. but it's the chicago illinois republican wilkins is supposed to the democrat roger roy wilkins naacp line. >> host: had a change in the kennedy administration came in?
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>> guest: on the kennedy administration came in i called that chapter something about being with friends, among friends because commissioners are saying to themselves or he's a good solid democrat to liberals and he's going to do everything we say needs to be done. now's the time to get it done. they didn't know behind the scenes, bobby kennedy, but that be -- not the good hobby he became later by experience. they were making fun of the commission. they think we're going to do this and it wasn't that they are hostile to civil rights. the problem is the committees in congress are controlled by democrats from the south into a racist. and he's from mississippi and so on, mcclellan. they were the people who control the judiciary committee and everything that happened in judicial appointments. kennedy didn't want to offend them. instead of the friendly
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reception they thought they would get, they would be listened to what the administration -- they would take recommendations and incorporate them later on in legislation force them to. until the civil rights movement person to come but they would be polite and then write a spec implores to themselves about these people think we're going to do this. he can't do any of us. so they found out and try to cooperate with the administration. but what they found out who is the appendage put into the love of their setup, which made them an independent voice to civil rights is really important and they shouldn't try and be friendly with some particular administration. their job is to be a watchdog over what the administration was doing and they learned that. and when kennedy was assassinated in johnson is a pro-civil rights, what they
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proposes proposed this legislation the civil rights act of 64 and 65 were enacted into law. >> host: at what point did you become aware in your life of the civil rights commission? >> guest: i became aware when i was in a graduate program at the university. someone came and asked me if i would work on a project they had. post the 60s, 70s? >> guest: yet, and i used some of the reports gazeta reports they did were very good reports and some historical research that i did. so i was very much aware of them. finally, by the time that roofie wade was decided, the commission asked me if i would write something as a history of abortion rights for them and how that all played out in what the history had had other way back to england and so on and i did a report for them.
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>> host: what is your history? where are you from? >> guest: i am from nashville, tennessee. my family and relatives are all still there. i went to pearl high school and i went to howard university and then i went to the university of michigan. first the history department where he got a phd and then i went to the law school. i wanted to do legal history and in those days you had to get those degrees, but you could get them at the same time. now you can. so i had to do one and then i had to do the other. >> host: did you come north to graduate school on purpose? >> guest: i came to howard yes on purpose. i went to segregated schools in nashville growing up. perl high this segregated. as we were called in those days. i went to howard and that made sense. when i went to michigan i was
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one of the first to who was in the phd program because when i got the ahead of graduate study said he was surprised to see me and i found out what that meant. and then he told me there was one time keep your year but didn't graduate is what he told me. so i was there in the department. i was in there by my howard wanted me to work with a particular professor there in the institution. >> host: mary frances berry, who are your parents? >> guest: my parents were poor folk of my mother -- my father left us early. he was one of those lost, stolen or straightman and my mother raised us, spent time in an orphanage in medicine and 10. that's one of my earliest memories. and then my mother raised us on her own. a very extended family in which
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my generation was the first generation to ever go to college. i mother graduated from eighth grade. she was the last harder than i am and she wanted to go to high school, but there is no high school to go to at that time. but she very much wanted us to get educated. >> host: windier member been interested in public policy and there is a government? >> guest: when i started doing legal history at michigan and started leading all the legal history staff, did a dissertation about the draft that was enacted during the civil war, the first national draft act. from reading the documents i read, all the materials generated by government agencies and even legal history of the law at the very concerned about how power is exercised and
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whether there's a voice for people not in power. how did the powerless get somebody to listen to them which is what i love so much about the commission because i was insisting on listening to people. when you go to san antonio, texas and was the first hearing the commission had held on the tenets that i write about in the book. there'll these latinos who nobodies listen to them in case they were kicked out of school because they spoke spanish and was told was a dirty language. all these people, education was awful. we listen to them. when you go and read about the kind of book who was run over by a car in 1851 in the commission was sent to him because he was a korean war veteran and a sheriff stopped a car and shot him.
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for no reason. it later turned out he was black and wanted to shoot somebody in the guy was paralyzed and he was the better in. yet the va wanted to not give them a pension because he must've been creating trouble for the race for sheriff shot him. so therefore was his fault and he should get a pension. he asked everybody to help them. government agencies. nobody would help it. he finally has the civil rights commission and they sent investigators found to find out what was going on and they ended up being able to get him his pension. and i met his family, descendents. and i told him the story. they knew he was paralyzed, but he never told them how this had happened to them. they were like my goodness. it is the commission that did it. so what i was interested in, but i'm still interested in is there has to be some way to have a voice for people, where they can
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go somewhere and somebody will listen to what they have to say. >> host: have good enough for seven years by congress or a particular president to disband disband the commission? >> guest: yes, ronald reagan tried to do that. it always amazes me. icann has become one of my most beloved presidents in all the polls and everything else. people forget some of the stuff that happened. he wanted to change the direction of civil rights. he wanted to make sure civil rights passed in the 60s weren't enforced the way they're supposed to to be enforced, so he decided to replace all the commissioners because they were standing up and watchdogging at restorations so they said okay, they got into the fight because when they got to be ready to change me, i see them. i won the lawsuit.
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the court said the commission is supposed to be a watchdog. i used to say should be a watchdog, not a lapdog for the administration. they succeeded in changing the direction of the commission. even though we were able to get some traction during my time, things i wish ricoh are, out of the 20,000 election about the commission has never been the same. so reagan in a sense succeeded in making it a body that couldn't listen and was not independent and kept trying commissioners to endorse whatever the administration said. i said if you're going to do the committee of cabinet officers and people putting political appointees whose job is to do that. your job is to monitor them
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until the public what they are doing and make suggestions for how things should be improved. right now in the most recent election, voter suppression activities at a place in the whole debate about it, the civil rights commission should at the center of that debate based on its history, experience with voting and voting rights suppression and making recommendations. it is nowhere to be seen. so what it was done has subverted the mission is supposed to have and what needs to happen if you need to be converted by the congress into another body or some thing are they had to get rid of it. that's my opinion. host or with the current makeup of the u.s. commission? >> guest: the commission has eight members, four and four. no more than for the same political party. what people have decided to do
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is play designation. vanilla two-point somebody and therefore whatever it is, they haven't changed their party or change something and then they appoint them anyway. but it has become the latest rupture is now because of what reagan did to it, it is hard to get a majority to do anything given the people who are appointed unlike the old days back in 5760 and so on are not supposed to be people who are objective, independent minded, for whom this is not a job and who are by the respected across the country and who would be aggressive and not be themselves as catering to their own political party. >> host: who is the current chair? >> guest: i have no idea. that's how much is doing. i've no idea who is the chair for what it's doing and i haven't seen anything done. it's been at least since i left
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and i do what they're doing. >> host: election 2004. why did you leave? tesco i left because my term is going to be a in january. this was december 2004. when bush got reelected, i didn't see any sent to stand around for that and i was not planning to stay and i didn't want him to appoint me and i'm sure he would have and that's why he left. >> host: the president gets to a point and then the congress -- as a result of a president reagan and proposals and are running the lawsuit date, congress passed a compromise as they do on these things that compromise expanded commission from six to eight, no more than four. the congress gets to appoint four undersell confirmation. used to be you had to be confirmed by the senate.
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and there for the public had a chance to see who has been appointed and to weigh in if they felt like it. nauseous to consider as a patronage position that somebody wants to appoint somebody so they appoint them. >> host: mary frances berry, did you have any relationship with ronald reagan, republican senator is time, jesse helme? >> guest: he be semi-birth date cards. ronald reagan, the only interaction i had with him was at the kennedy center for a member of congress was ever invited me. to come in. he seemed like a very affable, personable guy. sunny personality and all the rest. the most amusing thing is that he told the press when he fired me in the press asked him why, a
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reporter told me he said i fired her because she serves as a pusher and she's not giving me any pleasure in the press got a big laugh out of that one. >> host: what was your reaction? >> guest: that was almost as bad as the guy in the bush administration and the justice department said he liked his coffee like mary frances berry, black and bitter, which made the rounds. i served in his pleasure, but i'm not giving him much pleasure. and the court, that was brought into evidence in the court when i sued right and for firing me. he said that among other things for the president to fire people at an independent agency who are watchdogging and because they are not giving him pleasure. they are supposed to be giving him pleasure. you're supposed to be monitoring what he does. i found him to be an affable
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person and a nice guy to have a with. >> host: professor berry, of what are you most proud for your service and your civil rights commission? >> guest: i thought you're going to ask me what is most proud of. a lot of things. being an anti-apartheid movement ended in south africa for you. as far as the commission is concerned, i'm very proud of the hearings begin in florida, 2000 election because we heard again from people that nobody would listen to and we found out there were thousands of people who were registered to vote, who are legal voters and they just wouldn't let them go. i never will forget the minister who came in his head when he went to go with his family, they told him he was a convict did fallon and he couldn't go. he said that's not true. the only time i've ever been to the courthouse is when i was out there testifying for somebody.
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he said they voted right here in the same precinct last time. so why are you telling me -- and from the base friends and family and neighbors. he said he have to get out of here because you're a felon. turns out he wasn't and that they had rigged up the information on voters and purged the voter list and anybody who had a name similar to somebody else's name simply said they were felon and that there were thousands of people who were in that position. so i am very proud of the hearings because i'm not, but you can't and voter suppression just by doing that. we got the vote act passed, but this time around the commission didn't follow up on what was done before and we have consist of voter suppression in this country. >> host: with you here at the university of pennsylvania? >> guest: i teach history of american law and they teach a
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course to anybody who wants to take it in the history of american mosques in english. two after reconstruction and then from reconstruction to the president and then i teach a seminar, which i call the history of law and social change about topics that i am in. it's one of those things where do what i'm interested in. i.t. topics that have some currency, but if history and to show how the history and asked the question. this history have any place in the making of policy? the answer of course is the place of how then should a habit? were doing issues like lgbt rights, education and the whole debate over education reform, whether it works. students read materials from all sides of these issues and then we discuss them.
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>> host: dear ms. washington? >> guest: i miss the little bit of power you have when you're a government office because no matter how small the agency and how miniscule the power, when people at goblins, you can sometimes help them. as far as the commission is concerned, i miss being able to bring people who no one heard from, no one would listen to and listen to what they have to say. >> host: is is your third, fourth book? >> guest: know, i've written many more books than not. probably nine or 10 books. >> host: is there another one coming? >> guest: another one right now. the topic is what does it mean mean -- it is on voter fraud. i found documents from a place in louisiana of all places, where they seem to have had a
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persistent record of voter fraud from an 18th century until now. it's bipartisan and so i was given some record from the voter fraud that goes down there that no one else has. and so i've been reading them. so this book would be if you really want to see voter suppression, here is voter suppression. >> host: when can we expect that will? >> guest: probably in the next year. >> host: mary frances berry, when you hear the term post-racial, what do you think? >> guest: i think someone is an. there's a big debate about this when obama was selected by the democrats ended assorted out down now. the idea is we are beyond noticing are thinking about issues of race. i guess that is what that means. obviously we are.
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too many things have happened. even the presence of, and the white house raises racial questions for some people say that while we may be on the way some day to be post-racial, i think it is fair to say we are not now. >> host: do have relationship with president obama? >> guest: not really, no. >> host: "and justice for all," her most recent book i'm a professor at the university of pennsylvania. former chairwoman of the u.s. commission on civil rights. here's a history of the u.s. commission on civil rights. very frances berry on booktv on c-span 2.
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>> now another interview from the university of pennsylvania. stephanie mccurry sat down to discuss her book about her reckoning, looking at internal politics during the civil war and the influence the southern limit of a hat on the worst outcome. it's a little under half an hour. >> confederate bracketing is the name of the book. powered politics and the civil war south. the author is history professor, stephanie mccurry and the university of pennsylvania. first of all, professor mccurry, what is this painting on the front of your book? >> guest: this is a civil war painting of a battleship going down, the confederate flag going down in flames. it's an allegorical painting.


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